KARACHI: More than 1,000 historical sites in Sindh have been painstakingly documented and made part of an electronic database, which was handed over to the Sindh government at a ceremony on Tuesday.
The Heritage Foundation of Pakistan and the RWTH Aachen University of Germany have worked together for over three years to create this databank that focuses on establishing an authentic inventory of cultural sites in the province.
Detailed information of the 1,162 notified heritage sites of Sindh is part of a vast periphery of work that has been carried out in the province by local and international organisations. For architect Yasmin Lari, one of the project directors, “This database is about saving Sindh’s tangible heritage through management and safeguarding mechanisms.”
Though Sindh is one of the oldest civilisations, enjoying a legacy of Sufism and mysticism, folklore and oral histories, the cultural sites within it are in a state of neglect and are wearing out much faster than anticipated. This loss is not just of a tangible heritage, but also of an intangible one, which Ms Lari stresses should be halted.
Cultural sites in Badin, Dadu, Hyderabad, Ghotki, Jacobabad and Jamshoro are included in the databank. However, the most marked ones are the Moenjodaro and Makli sites, which are part of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s world heritage list.
Dr Michael Jansen, the project director representing Aachen University, said: “The most important question is how to integrate the value of the jewels of Sindh into a strategic programme for further economic and social development.”
Dr Jansen gave a brief overview of the particulars of the project and the various facets of the documentation. From aerial shots of a particular site, to pictures from the past and recent ones, excavation maps, written sources as well as satellite images, the databank aims to provide a more thorough academic and historical examination of heritage sites in the province.
“This is not a recent invention, as historical documentation has been ongoing for centuries. However, it is a more modern technique,” he said.
Identifying more than 1,000 sites was not an easy task, said Dr Jansen. He spoke about the difficulties faced by teams in the field. At times just finding the exact location took days, and for these efforts he credited the various team members who were undeterred in their quest.
The databank has the added option of providing the exact coordinates of these sites so that locating them is easier.
However, the database is not accessible to anyone not directly involved in the project, which is an unfortunate omission. The server is managed by Aachen University and must be mirrored in Pakistan and access granted to all those interested.
The method of documentation is two-pronged: administrative and scientific. Any information about location and other technical aspects of the site are shelved under administrative data while thousands of maps, photos and written sources are part of the scientific data.
Each entry includes the accessibility of the site, its historicity, the physical condition it is in, apart from giving an extensive road framework, with aerial shots and close-ups.
Dr Jansen says that countries in transition such as Pakistan require the recreation of identity to allow cultural tourism to flourish. “We need to turn these archaeological sites into sites that can be visited by international as well as local tourists. This is a stabilising factor against fundamentalism,” he added.
Dr Jansen also highlighted the need for conservation and restoration of historic sites that are also threatened by frequent flooding in Sindh.
German consul general Dr Tilo Klinner stressed the need for a “counter narrative to extremist forces that are actively trying to eliminate heritage and culture”. He called for inculcating a sense of pride and ownership in the locals living near these historic sites which would allow such places to thrive and also create an alternative form of livelihood.
Minister for culture and tourism Sharmila Faruqi lamented the lack of support and funds for heritage preservation in the country. “Urgent intervention and conservation efforts are required not just by the Sindh government, but the state as a whole must take active interest in protecting our jewels for the coming generations,” she said. She also gave assurances that the database would be put to good use in the conservation and preservation of these historic sites, as well as allowing educational institutions to benefit from the information uploaded.
Published in Dawn, July 22th, 2015